Remembering the History of Clearwater Fire and Rescue
Thu, 06/12/2014 - 11:00pm admin
Around 75 people attended the 61st Annual Clearwater Gathering Potluck Sunday, June 8, 2014 at the Clearwater Legion. The topic of the afternoon was the history of the Clearwater Fire & Rescue with a presentation given by Elaine Paumen.
Paumen had wanted to present the history of the Clearwater Fire Dept. for a long time, especially since Paumen and her brother, Gene Miller, were a four generation family background with the department.
Paumen's thorough report detailed early fires, fire station buildings and fire engines dating back from the first fire engine documented in 1906 and the first organized Fire Company in 1908 to the present department.
Prominent fires included the Clearwater Scott Hotel fire March 27, 1924, which threatened to burn down the entire business section of town, had it not been for the fast action of the Clearwater Village Fire Dept. and the quick assistance of St. Cloud firemen.
The most tragic fire in the repertoire of the Clearwater Fire Dept. occurred shortly before 9 a.m. the morning of August 12, 1954. As Marcella Miller and her three children drove away after filling with gas at Leonard Killeen's Station, a gasoline truck exploded. Jim Nielson, 60, who was having a tire fixed at the station, died instantly. Kenneth Killeen, 21, who was operating the station that morning, and Jim Avery, 76, who had stopped in for a chat, both died at the hospital a few days later.
The hottest fire the CWFD faced was the Golden Sail Restaurant fire July 3, 1981. First called in by motorists on Interstate 94, the St. Cloud Fire Dept. also came to battle the blaze. With the internal temperature estimated at 1,000 degrees inside the Golden Sail, Gene Miller and Terry Mansell were the first to enter the building. They had no visibility when a hot steel beam landed in the three feet separating Mansell and Miller, missing both of them in the fall. Fire Chief Tom Allen reported they battled that particular fire, off and on, for two days.
"We made a good team," said Miller of his longstanding partnership with Mansell.
Mansell joined the Clearwater Fire Dept. in October 1973, and was an advocate of rescue, medical and CPR training since his first day. After 10 tireless years, the efforts of Mansell, Chief Tom Allen and Assistant Chief Gene Miller culminated with the addition of a rescue squad to the fire department in 1983.
"You don't save many lives with just a fire truck," said Mansell. "With rescue, you have many people knowing the basics."
Mansell taught CPR, EMT, advanced first aid, was a firefighter instructor and taught other members to be CPR instructors. Eventually, the Clearwater Fire & Rescue had one of the best trained departments in the state.
"It didn't take long before we became the darling of the fire department," said Mansell about the early exploits of the rescue squad.
Apart from the technical history, the tenacity, creativity and courage of the Clearwater Fire & Rescue members is to be admired. The stories that show the selflessness of individuals capture the upstanding character of Clearwater residents.
Mansell remembers the constant kindness of Chief Jansky's wife, Irene, who had an aptitude for seeing what needed to be done, and doing it, unassuming recognition.
On his first fire call out to the old KOA Campground. He went down to the fire station and met Gilbert Jansky.
After changing in to the hat, boots and coat at the station, they set out to the fire. Mansell had taken off his socks to change into the canvas and rubber boots, and he soon noticed that his feet were bleeding. After relaying his plight to Irene Jansky, she replied she would bring him socks they kept in the truck. The slightly worn-out wool socks she procured were a great blessing to Mansell.
"I looked around, and saw she had taken her socks off," remembers Mansell of Irene's sacrifice, giving him her own socks and then continuing to work in the slush and snow, sockless in her low boots.
Mansell also remembers when Irene helped start the fire truck. When the truck wouldn't start, Irene pushed it out of the station, while they pumped the clutch. Eventually the engine started, and they were able to make it to the call.
"That's just the way she was," Mansell reflected about the woman who simply answered the call of what needed to be done, never expecting praise.
Tom Allen, who became fire chief from 1981 - 1988, participated in his first fire by following the fire trucks to Joe Pudelko's barn. After being chastised by Chief Jansky to either quit following the trucks or join the department, Allen joined the CWFD in April 1973.
These, and countless other stories like it, show the gumption and resourcefulness of the people who made this department great, even though they battled years of minimal financial backing, political strife, homemade rescue equipment, and fire trucks that wouldn't quite fit into the hall garage.
"It was so difficult to do what we did, and I look across the street now, and see they're continuing to do what we started," reflected Mansell.
At the end of the presentation, current Fire Chief Doug Nieters gave an account of how the department runs today, comparing paging systems, training, membership numbers and the present equipment to the old methods.
Dedication is something that hasn't changed in the history of the CWFD. For new recruits today, before they can even enter a burning building, they must earn three certificates and complete 140 hours of training. To be an officer, additional training is also required.
Chief Nieters also discussed the need for a larger fire hall. The current hall was built in 1993, but the department has outgrown it, as can be seen from fire truck sitting in the back parking lot due to lack of space.
Hearkening back to the history of his department, Chief Nieters concluded, "Former fire fighters and chiefs had it much rougher than we do now. They are the true heroes of the Clearwater Fire Dept."